“Space…is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is.” – An Important Book
Some of you probably know that we live on a rock inside a place that we call (because we don’t know its real name) Space. A Big Rock to us, but not at all the biggest rock in the universe, and relatively speaking, it is rather small and delicate. Our rock orbits a big ball of fire about 100 million miles away, which seems to be a nice distance all things considered, although right now I wouldn’t mind if it was a bit closer, but then I suppose the people in New Zealand and South America would complain that it is too close. You can’t please everyone I guess.
What many people don’t know is that there are around 500,000 other rocks orbiting this same ball of fire, and around 10,000 of these rocks get close enough to our rock to make me very nervous.
We don’t really know yet how to stop one of these rocks from unacceptably invading our personal space and making us uncomfortable, much less directly assaulting us, but we certainly have no chance of doing anything about it if we HAVE NO IDEA THAT IT IS EVEN THERE. And this happens all too often (like about 4 months ago).
This is where you and I can help. Amateur astronomers, with relatively inexpensive telescopes, have discovered thousands of asteroids and comets, sometimes days, weeks, or months before the professionals. Sure, governments and big institutions have lots of fancy telescopes that are constantly looking at Space. But Space is Big, really big, and even fancy big telescopes like the Hubble only look at a tiny itty bitty part of Space at one time. And, when you are looking for tiny, fast moving rocks, it actually is better to have a telescope that can look at more of Space at one time, even if it doesn’t magnify as much. And even when the professionals find a new rock, the trick is to follow it for a while so you can get a good idea of its path, and the pros are way too busy looking for black holes, dark matter, and aliens to bother much with figuring out the orbit of a chunk of rock.
Let’s learn about how you can become an asteroid and comet tracker and perhaps Save the Earth, or at least give us some warning so we can hunker down, or run away, or in the worst case have one last awesome going away party. We will have an inexpensive but very effective telescope for you to examine, and we’ll talk about all the cool technology telescopes come with now, including high speed digital cameras, computer control and tracking, and even the beginnings of artificial intelligence to help locate and track all the dangerous flying junk in our neighborhood.
Even if you live in an urban area, modern telescopes can still be effective tools for viewing space, and they keeping getting better every year. Who knows, you too might be the first to discover a flying space rock and, even better, give it a name!*
* Within reason of course. I know what you’re thinking – just grow up will ya?